Fresh Christmas Trees
Many Christmas trees are grown on large plantations in the Pacific Northwest and shipped to all parts of the country. In addition, we have many smaller choose and cut growers within easy driving distance of most metro areas. Cutting your own tree from one of these plantations ensures freshness. Using a water holding stand can also keep a tree fresh and soft for a month or longer.
Living Christmas Trees in Pots
Living trees and other plants can be decorated with Christmas ornaments and later be planted outside. This can become a family tradition where parents and children point to trees growing in the landscape and say, “that was our Christmas tree in 20XX.” This is especially effective if the whole family is involved in the process of selecting, decorating and planting the tree.
When you are selecting a living tree for decoration, broaden your thinking to include plants that might not normally be considered to be “Christmas trees”. For example, I used a large Benjamin fig tree as a Christmas tree when there was no available space for a Christmas tree and the Ben fig was already there and taking up space.
Many of the trees normally used as Christmas trees are forest giants which get 50 feet tall. If you select one of these, make sure you have a space big enough to accommodate it
Two of the best selections for traditional looking tall Christmas trees are Blue Spruce and several Fir trees. Smaller size trees that would be better adapted to most landscapes include Juniper, Arborvitae, Dwarf Alberta Spruce and Vanderwolf Pine. Although they are more irregular than a traditional Christmas tree, Hinoki Cypress, Alpine Fir and Mountain Hemlock are excellent choices for living Christmas trees that will fit most landscapes. A 5 to 6 foot tree (including pot) can be purchased for about $70 to $100.
The following procedures are important if you want to have success with your living Christmas tree:
- Keep the tree inside for no more than 14 days. 7 to 10 days is best.
- Water the tree to keep the soil moist while inside.
- Use only miniature lights for decoration which give off less heat.
- Water the tree and plant it outside right away. December-January are ideal planting times for trees.
If the tree breaks dormancy and begins to grow inside it will probably not survive. However, if it does start to grow, you can keep it inside all winter if you have a large south facing window. Then plant it outside in April.
A tropical tree called a Star Pine is often available at this time of year in Big Box stores. It is a good house plant and looks nice decorated as a Christmas tree. Many other indoor plants can also be decorated for Christmas.
Good Leaves and Bad Leaves
There are several leaf diseases which can be spread from this year’s old leaves to next spring’s new growth. Flowering Cherries, especially weeping varieties, Dogwood, Photinia, and Roses should have their leaves raked up and removed. Walnut leaves contain a chemical which inhibits plant growth and should not be composted or tilled into soil as an amendment.
Just about all other leaves, including Pines, Cedars, Firs, and other conifers will improve the soil by adding organic matter. Put them on your vegetable gardens or annual flower beds and spade or till them into the soil now or later. Evergreen needles do not fall all at once like broadleaf trees. It is true that they increase soil acidity. But this can be countered by adding lime or other soil sweeteners.
After several years, strawberry beds become over crowded with plants so fruit yields decline. Removing at least half the plants so they are spaced about 6 inches apart will double fruit yield next year. Remove the oldest and largest plants. The smaller, younger plants will produce the most fruit next year.
Fertilize Trees and Shrubs
Tree and shrub roots continue to grow and pick up moisture and nutrients from the soil, even when top growth is dormant. Some of the fertilizer applied now will be stored in the roots and be ready for new spring growth. It is true that some fertilizer will be leached from the soil by winter rain. Coated fertilizers which release fertilizer gradually are not as prone to leaching. Some gardeners like to split woody plant fertilization, half in November and half in March. Lawn fertilizer or a general purpose fertilizer such as 16-16-16 works well on trees and shrubs.
As the sun gets lower in the winter sky and days become shorter, less and less natural light reaches indoor plants. We also have more cloudy days in winter, which further reduces natural daylight. To compensate for lower light conditions you can move plants closer to windows, and make sure that curtains are open during daylight.
South facing windows have the highest light conditions. East and west windows are next. North facing windows get no direct sunlight, but still provide indirect light which is brighter than locations some distance from windows.
Even low light requiring plants such as Dracaena, Chinese evergreen, and Peace Lily can be placed directly in south facing windows from now until early March. However, medium and high light requiring plants should get preference if space is limited. Use east, west, or north facing windows, when necessary, for lower light plants. African Violets thrive in north windows year round.
Plant leaves naturally turn toward the light. Plants grow lop-sided if they are not turned periodically, especially when growing in windows. Rotate plant ¼ turn once each week. If you want some plants further from windows for decorative purposes, trade them with other plants closer to windows so they get some bright light during the month.
If you are not sure of the relative light needs of your indoor plants, buy or borrow a book on indoor plants from the library. Most books have pictures so you can compare them with your plants even if you do not remember the plant names. In most cases, you are better off with low light requiring plants. Maybe it is time to replace some of your struggling high light plants with those which require less light.
Indoor Plant Fertilizer
My favorite container and indoor plant fertilizer is Osmocote or one of the other brands of coated fertilizer pellets. The porous coating allows water to seep through the pores, dissolve a little bit of fertilizer and seep back through the pores into the soil. Every time water is applied, a little fertilizer is released. The pellets generally last 3 to 4 months depending upon the size of pellet and the thickness of the coating. I usually mark the calendar so I will know when to make another application. I look for fertilizers with about twice as much nitrogen as phosphorus and potassium.
Liquid and soluble powders also work quite well but need to be applied more often. Directions usually indicate rates for monthly and constant feeding every time you water. I often use liquid fertilizer as a supplement to the coated pellets based upon plant appearance. When older leaves begin to turn yellow, it is time to fertilize.